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Friday, June 21, 2019

Fifty-eight is Great

Happy Birthday, Sean
Fifty-Eight is Great
Cedar Point, around 1997

Sorry for another Sean post. Not sorry - it’s just Father’s Day and
Sean’s birthday fall within the same week. Another reminder of
who we don’t have.

Last I checked, Sean was still dead. Wish it weren’t so. Today in
America would’ve been his 58th birthday. I used to love this day,
because it's also often the summer solstice - the longest day of the
year - in the Northern Hemisphere.  

We’ve spent 3,437 days so far without Sean.

When someone has an out-of-order death, i.e., dies way before
their natural life expectancy, we miss not only their past selves,
but their future selves, too. I mourned the passing of my 96-
year-old grandfather around Christmas last year as the end of
an era. He had outlived his wife and lived long enough to see
a teenaged great-grandchild. Fiona turned six-years-old four
days after Sean’s death. I still remember her Hannah Montana cake.
Finley was four years old. His memories of Sean are reconstructed
- like shards of pottery he’s gluing together using photos and
stories from adults who knew and loved Sean.

First day of kindergarten for Fiona, Sept, 2009

The kids and I have missed many milestones with Sean: Finley’s
entry into school; hundreds of soccer games for both kids; Fiona’s
math development (the little girl who couldn’t grasp Year 5 maths just
scored excellence on her Year 11 multi-variate test); Finley’s scarecrow
hair and the first overseas trip the kids are about to take without me.
They’ve done (or will do) these things without their dad. Together,
if we’re lucky, the kids and I will endure more stupid antics and precious
time for many more years.

We’ll spend at least tens of thousands of extra hours without Sean.

This is why, for anyone who thinks I should stop living in the past,
should’ve gotten over Sean’s death by now and should’ve moved on
(all things I’ve heard from otherwise intelligent people), these cliches
mean nothing. As writer and podcaster Nora McInerny says,
“Never should on yourself. Don’t let anyone else should on you, either.”
Lopez Island, WA, August, 2009

I live in the now. A now without Sean. I plan for tomorrow.
A tomorrow without Sean.

We’re doing the best we can. As much as the kids test my sanity,
they’ve also saved me from melding with my bedspread. I'd be a
keening, squished lump without Fiona and Finley.

Sean's birthday, 2018

Tonight, we’re taking ourselves to dinner in Sean’s honor.
We’ll tell stories and I’ll get annoyed when Finley interrupts.
Fiona will say something sweet, like, “I love you, Moo”
(her nickname for me. She’s Foo).

I love you, too, Foo. I love you, Finn-bo. Happy birthday, Sean.
Our love for you will live as long as we do.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

The Call to Laughter

The Call to Laughter

I’m working to re-train my brain there is no such thing as a bad year. Or a good year. It’s convention, this time thing. The idea we’ll peel a year or a month off the calendar. This year bad. Next year good. Rubbish.

My old way of thinking would suggest 2019 will be a shitty year as I wrestle with transitions, like the kind I endured while laboring before my two children were born. The life changes I’m embarking on would top anyone’s list of Most Stressful. I won’t elaborate right now, because I’m not ready. So, back to transition - I’m wrestling a few that remind me of that painful period before giving birth. The first time, I withstood an excruciating epidural minutes before emergency surgery (Fiona); the second time, I was drug-free while pushing a human - a baby with hand on head - from a small space (Finley). Both transitions required the ability to withstand temporary suffering and delivered a beautiful result.

This time, I’m not convinced of the beautiful result. Nor am I guaranteed one. No one is, whether in childbirth or the birth of a new self following paroxysms of weeping or long spells of anxiety.

So back to the good/bad years/months: if I listen to advice from wise people, I’ll realize we only have this moment. Ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Zhu said, “If you are depressed you are living in the past.  If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” (People with clinical depression aren’t necessarily living in the past; they have a serious medical illness which is treatable. This differs from sadness over something like loss of a loved one, which comes in waves and generally co-exists with maintaining self-esteem).

Where was I? This moment. I cherish the sweet, small moments which really, are all we have. Even in the midst of Sean’s four and-a-half month hospitalization, those moments existed, like Marcel Proust’s moment when he tastes a madeleine dipped in tea, unleashing a torrent of memories. My madeleine was an oatmeal cookie with just the right amount of butter, sugar and salt. The cookies were a homemade gift, soft and chewy. I made them last two weeks by eating one or two per day in the hospital waiting room around 10:30 am. As I bit into the soft, sugar-with-a-hint-of-salt oatey confection, I mused life couldn’t be all bad. Even while my husband lay unconscious, wired and tubed in the ICU, I could find pleasure in a baked good. I still love oatmeal cookies, though I’ve never replicated any as good as Gay’s.

And so it is with comedy shows. Especially in the midst of crisis, a funny stand-up program stirs muscle memories of laughter. Of smiling so much your face hurts. Everyone has their triggers; one of mine is Amy Schumer. Yes, she's crass, scatological - she’s not for everyone. But I’ll claim her as mine, because she makes me laugh so hard I cry.

I had just finished watching Brené Brown’s excellent The Call to Courage on Netflix when I spied Schumer’s Growing Pains. It was getting late, but it’s a long holiday weekend and I didn’t have to get the kids (or me) up early the next day. So I watched. And laughed so hard and so strangely, Fiona shot video of me on her phone. Watching me laugh makes me laugh - again. Fi said at first, she thought I was hurt. It sounds like chimpanzees have invaded the house.

Maybe instead of a Proustian moment, it’s a Schumer moment? It was a laughter moment. Proof happiness exists not in the past or future, but only right here, right now. The present of the present. I needed that.

What makes you laugh so hard you cry?

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Young and Old Emcee

Young and Old Emcee
How to choose a master of ceremonies who delivers
At the 2019 Multicultural Festival, Tauranga

I’ve emceed (or MC’d, if you prefer) fashion shows, award ceremonies, cultural galas, charity lunches and other events for years. I like being part of the action without actually having to win anything, sew anything or have any real talent. I’m not a hosting expert, but I’ve attended enough functions to tell you what goes on behind the scenes, and how to know when you’ve chosen the wrong person for the job.

 (video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyHq38boj2Q  )

What really happens:


Controlled chaos. If you’ve ever emceed, you know nothing goes to plan. Performers are late or don’t show, judges take too much time with a decision, the microphone doesn’t work, the lighting is wonky… it’s always something. I recently emceed a cultural event where my run sheet said a man would perform a song on bagpipes. He brought his pipes and accordian to the stage. Immediately after I introduced him, he started playing the accordian. It sounded like he was practicing, but then again, I’m no virtuoso.

Script changes

Be prepared to edit and add to the script. Organizers sometimes forget to add sponsors to the lineup, and will breathlessly approach you as you’re about to grab the mic, asking, “Could you please mention Sponsors A, B, C, D and E?” Of course you will. They’ve helping pay so the audience can nosh, network and maybe sip a drink during the show.

Time changes

Performer A was supposed to take the stage 15 minutes ago, but the show started late and now everything is backed up. Try to keep to the schedule, but realize you’re not a miracle worker.


Where’s the toilet? Do you know where I can plug into a power source? Do you know when my group is onstage? What’s the square root of 680? (about 26). You didn’t put the event together, but as the person holding a microphone and a script, you look the part. Smile and answer as best you can while frantically looking for someone who can give orders.

I Can’t Hear You

This is almost inevitable. I worked in TV news for 15 years, much of that time on the anchor desk, where I didn’t have to consider eating my lavalier microphone. Some handheld mics practically require you to chomp them if you want people in back to hear.

What not to do

I attended an awards ceremony where the emcee was either a first-timer, nervous and/or super-excited about sharing herself with the crowd. She rambled about her cat, her likes, dislikes and other random opinions. Meanwhile, those of us in the audience grew increasingly uncomfortable. It was an awkward two hours. We had extra time between awards, either because a team wasn’t ready, or judges were taking extra-long to deliberate. Rather than say, “This could take a while - why don’t you mingle and enjoy a refreshment?” the emcee told more cat stories. Give your attendees a break during an unexpected long pause - music can fill what would otherwise be dead air on stage.

It’s not about the emcee. You are not the star. Your job is to make things run smoothly and make the real stars of the show look good.


When can you tell stories, swear and joke with the audience? When you’re damn funny. It helps, too, if you’re a local or national celebrity. If you’re killing it on stage, go for it - in moderation - pros know when to stop and return to the wedding reception,seminar, ceremony, show, gala, etc…

No matter what, smile. You’re paving the way to a good time for your audience.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

A Votre Service – At Your Service

Coucou!” Monsieur Bar Fly is drunk. It’s two in the afternoon, and JL has been here all day, swilling pint after pint of Cardinal beer. He steps outside every five minutes to smoke. He’s lonely. Bored. And I’m one of two people at this auberge (inn) he can target. I try to blend with the dining room furniture when JL finds me again. “Coucou!” I’ve already seen him several times this week, and feel familiar enough and annoyed enough to let him have it: “Pas ‘coucou!’ N’avez vous rien de faire toute la journee?”

Translation: “No ‘coucou’ [in this case, ‘hello’ and ‘peek-a-boo’ at once]. Don’t you have anything to do all day?” No. It’s JL’s day off, and this world offers two choices: pickling his liver and scarring his lungs.

The monsieur is one of several characters who frequent the restaurant and inn my friends, Anne and Arthur, own. Called L’Armailli (pronounced larm-ay-ee), it’s named after a herder of cows and goats and has lived in Anne’s family for generations. It’s not a place you stumble upon, more than 1100 metres (3600 feet) above sea level, in the Valais region of Switzerland.
View from the dining room

This is the third time Fiona and I have been to Mex. The first visit, Fi was 14 months old and I was newly pregnant with Finley. Sean noticed the small village included teenagers. “Maybe one of them would want to be a nanny in Spokane,” he said. We asked around, and found Anne. She lived with us for six months, in 2007, when Fiona was three and Finley was about a year-and-a-half. Anne patiently bore Finn’s bedtime refusals and didn’t panic when she couldn’t find Fiona’s preschool. She went to camp with us, shared our celebrations and empathised with our sorrows. Even at 19, she had wisdom. And she’ll always be family. Anne and Arthur visited Spokane after Sean’s death and the kids and I returned to Switzerland to stay with them for several days in 2010.


Drive about an hour and-a-half from Geneva, leave the highway at Lavey and look for signs saying Epinassey/Mex. Then, at the base of the mountain, breathe deeply. Clear your mind. Pray to the driving gods for a successful journey. For five kilometres, you’ll switchback on a road mostly wide enough for a single vehicle, but one that often sees two cars driving in opposite directions. Tour buses travel the road, too. Near the top, pass under a bridge, then navigate two narrow tunnels. Honk your horn to let other drivers know you’re coming, because only one of you can pass at a time. Try not to fixate on a sign indicating falling rock, especially while motoring beneath a large limestone overhang.

Near the top, pause as you encounter a small white Renault. In a polite game of chicken, wait to see who’ll reverse. Thankfully, it’s Renault, because you’re not sure how far back you’d have to roll before finding a space wide enough for two cars.

Exhale and smile upon seeing Bienvenue a Mex (Welcome to Mex). You’ve arrived. And could probably use an adult beverage, though not so many you’re coucou-ing strangers.
Fiona about to savour the plat du jour: stuffed tomato

Follow the sign to the town’s only restaurant. Step inside to the sunny front room with gasp-worthy Alpen views. During summer, l’Armailli is open seven days a week, from 9am until whenever. Anne will greet you with a smile and “Bonjour” before asking what you’d like. In the kitchen, her husband, Arthur, whips up plats du jour and other fare such as sautéed chicken and potatoes; pasta shells with vegetables and cheese; enormous stuffed tomatoes; sausages with fries; and fondue. He makes tons of fondue. If there’s a fondue going, you’ll smell it: the stinky-socks aroma of Gruyere and Emmenthal cheeses, mixed with white wine and kirsch (cherry) liqueur. If you’re lucky, Arthur will add an egg and remains of a bottle of Jack Daniels (because there was no Cognac) towards the end of the pot after the children finish eating. It’s like a lucky dip for adults that finishes with a kick. If you have any room after fondue (probably not), there’s crème caramel, ice cream or cherry clafoutis for dessert. My new fat cells and I recommend the last one, a French dessert with carmelized top, though again, do not attempt this manoeuvre after diving into a vat of cheese.
Arthur's lucky last dips fondue

On fondue night, a group of eight or ten had reserved a table in the bar where they could watch the World Cup: France versus Belgium (France won, which equals a happy native Parisian chef).  About an hour before the group was due, they cancelled. Anne removed some of the settings and left most for us: her family of four, me, and several regulars.

Hours before the game, one of those regulars, Madam O, introduced herself, saying she’s from Siberia. “I don’t meet many people from Siberia,” I said, before correcting myself. “I haven’t met anyone from Siberia.” O had just returned from the Yukon, in Canada, where she and her daughter had won a performance category in a First Nations festival. When I asked what kind of performance it was, she sang, motioned, and made grunting sounds similar those of the Maori haka of New Zealand. O typed her name into my phone to show me she’s well-known in indigenous circles.

Anne had noticed during our girls’ night at the hot pools, my feet are ticking time bombs. Beyond Morton’s toe and rhinoceros heels, I also have reddish-purplish bands running outside both feet, possibly a combination of poor circulation and pounding pavement while running. Anne suggests trying medicinal leeches, which looks and sounds disgusting, but would be better than surgery or injections. Meantime, my friend asks O if she’d look at my problem. “She’s a shaman,” Anne says.

O tells me to remove my flip flop and place my left foot on her lap. She holds it, squeezes, then bows her head and says something while making clicky-smacky sounds. “Wait three days and it will be better,” she says. “Thanks,” I say. “How about my other foot?” O gives me a look indicating “Don’t press your luck.”
O and Anne on fondue night
We sit, awaiting football and fondue, O with her beer and me with water. She tells me two family members were killed earlier this year, and she must return to her home country to perform a ceremony. I tell her I’m sorry. When she tells the story a fourth time, however, I start to wonder. O says, “I’m very drunk.” That explains it. Not that the tragedy isn’t true, but repetition of the same information was concerning. Later, Arthur tells me he likes O, and the world would be a boring place if we were all the same. “She has character. She’s different, and it’s not something you see every day.” This is why he and Anne have succeeded in hospitality. They possess not only a tolerance for unusual and sometimes, annoying, guests; they embrace people’s quirks.
Arthur and Anne

Another reason my friends have endured is their astonishing work ethic. The two of them handle everything at l’Armailli, from bookings, to cleaning to cooking and serving to more cleaning. They have two young children, ages three and five. Anne told me when Arthur burned himself with hot oil, he waited hours before seeking help because the restaurant was full (help took the form of a telephone call to a guerisseur/healer. Apparently, lots of Swiss people call these numbers when they’re hurt. Arthur says he had a second-degree burn, yet there’s scant evidence on his skin).  Anne was working the day her waters broke with her youngest child. Thankfully, her chef father-in-law and his wife were there to help. The new mom-of-two returned to work shortly after the birth.

Mex is nestled in a region famous for hiking trails, so trampers come to spend a night and have a meal. They enter, all sinew and bone, boots wider than thighs, bearing bulky backpacks with collapsible walking sticks tucked into the sides. One woman in her sixties, who couldn’t have weighed more than 90 pounds, downs a pint of beer, then promptly asks for another. If you’d hiked some of these steep paths, you might want a pint or three, as well.
Hiker's paradise: Mex, Valais, Switzerland
The innkeeper business will soon be in the rear view mirror for Anne and Arthur. After four years and two children, they’re ready to leave 14-hour (oftentimes more) workdays behind for a less hectic life in France. Anne has already trained in a discipline related to physical therapy, and if her session with my creaky body is any indication, she’s very good. Like Anne, Arthur will succeed in whatever he does.  

It’s been one week since O tried to heal my multi-colored foot. Upon careful examination I see – no change. At I have a new story to tell.


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Soddisfatta - Satisfied

                Soddisfatta - Satisfied

Winter in New Zealand left me cold and hollow, with appetite for little else but turning up the heat. After less than a week of Italian summer, I’m warm and sated. Full of pasta, bread and gratitude. Sono soddisfatta. Sono sazia. I’m satisfied. And full.

Sofia, Fiona, Finley

We stayed with our former exchange student, Sofia. Her parents’ three-story house was built in 1928 in the shadow of a church whose bells toll each half hour. The village of 1000 people sits north of Milan. Sofia’s dad, Bob, fetched us from the airport, setting the tone for five and-a-half days with the Franchinis. Rather than play the role for which I’m self-taught --floundering tourist -- I was, instead, housed, fed and driven to interesting places. Spoiled. Viziato.

Maya Angelou said people will forget what you said and did, but will never forget how you made them feel. For me, it’s the same with place. I might blank out this excursion or that monument, but emotion about a location and its people is a lasting souvenir. The feeling I have about the start of our European trip is one of contentment and of being care-taken. That sense borders on strange when you’re custodian and chauffeur to two busy, needy kids. Thankfully, it’s possible to loosen your grip and relinquish the illusion of control, just as it’s possible to laugh after swilling liquid resembling lemonade, which is, in fact, limoncello – alcohol. It burns slightly when mistaken for yellow sugar water.

For our first lunch, Sofia’s mom, Alessandra, serves pasta shaped like olive leaves bathed in pesto and olive oil. Tiny flakes of fresh parmesan fall like snow as I grate a thin blanket of cheese. I inhale aromas of basil and olive oil as the first bite enters my mouth. The final group of leaves requires a fork chase. I’m victorious in the end, spearing each slippery leaf until the bowl is bare.

Meals are capped off with espresso and fruit. After devouring a heaping bowl of carbohydrates accompanied by Gorgonzola cheese, there’s still room for an apricot. Maybe two. My appetite, apathetic the past few months, has emerged from hibernation announcing she’s ready to party. Something else has happened – my watch reports an average resting heartrate in the 40s. It had flirted with 60 back home. I’d like to think olive oil and wine are miracle health boosters, when in reality, going on holiday and having few responsibilities likely deserve credit.

We visit Milan’s enormous Duomo, waiting in a 30-minute queue in 30-degree (86 Fahrenheit) heat. Another former exchange student, Vittoria, who travelled from Turin to meet us, buys candles for Fiona and Finley inside. “Who did you light them for?” I ask, knowing the answer. Daddy. A trickle forms in the corner of my eye. The kids performed the same ritual eight years ago, when I brought them around the world the first time, lighting candles from Paris to Melbourne.

Nearly as impressive as the more than six centuries-old Milan cathedral was Finley’s lunchtime feat. He stuffed down an entire margherita pizza, working out from the center. Hand motions and deep breathing conveyed the image of a maestro at work.
Yes, he ate the whole thing.

Finn takes turns annoying and entertaining us with his riff on an advertisement he created for a fictional product delivering “naturally curly hair.” He delivers commentary in a British accent, so the script sounds like “CAH-lee hey-ah

As an aside, I do not recommend sitting across from Finley on a train from Italy to Switzerland. The scenery you’ve been looking forward to – the Alps – will be punctuated by “OOH-OOH-OOH…” and you’ll stop gazing at mountains to tell Finn to CUT IT OUT.

Another aside- do not read stories about young Thai soccer players trapped in a cave writing heartfelt messages to their parents while on the train because you might start crying.

Let’s talk pizza. Italian, wood-fired pizza with bubbled, smoke-flavored crust. We visit a lakeside pizzeria at Lago Monate, which our hosts tell me is the cleanest of local lakes. Pizzas are preceded by Mojitos – large, minty, not-too-sweet. I order pizza with zucchini, pancetta and shrimp. Fiona gets cherry tomatoes with a large egg of fresh mozzarella in the middle. Finley’s pizza is layered with pancetta, close enough to bacon for his meat lover’s heart. I drink red wine with my meal and the kids and I share a small cup of tiramisu, which means I get two bites. It’s okay, as I couldn’t finish my pizza. Sono sazia.


We tour a monastery built into a cliff bordering Lago Maggiore called Santa Catarina del Sasso, whose walkway is lined with wisteria; and Borromeo castle, with its astonishing collection of cute and creepy dolls.

The highlight of one lunch alongside Lago Maggiore is the view and a crisp, pale beer served in a wine glass. While I love gnocci, I learned I do not adore it painted with turmeric sauce. I finish Finley’s tomato sauce version instead. Fortified by food, the kids and I jump from Bob’s sailboat into the lake, cooling off after a day baking in sunshine.
Next time, tomato sauce

Jumping into Lago Magggiore

On land in Laveno, we enjoy gelato which Fiona pronounces “best ever.” My two scoops – chocolate and American cheesecake, are rich and flavorful, caressing my taste buds before slip-sliding down my throat into a celebrating stomach.

We enjoy most dinners outside, in view of the pool or a World Cup soccer match on a TV which has been turned to face the outside. Our first dinner, eaten at 9pm, is barbequed spare ribs and sausages. Another night, it’s baked chicken with peppers and onion; the following evening melon, prosciutto and broccoli, and on our last night in Comabbio, pasta shaped like braided ropes –strozzapretti. “I hope you don’t mind pasta again,” says Alessandra. Not a bit. Neither do I mind crusty bread or wine – Italian whites which taste of summer and satiety. The only spoilers at our post-8pm meals are mosquitos, who feast on us as we dine. By morning, my welts have mostly disappeared, though Fiona’s linger for days.
Dining al fresco

Our final meal is a hasty lunch before catching our train. “You don’t want to eat the food on the train,” says Alessandra. “It’s expensive, and it’s horrible.” She and Sofia prepare butterfly pasta mixed with last night’s sautéed zucchini. I make time for toast. Fruit can wait.
Alessandra and Fiona

When we’re not en route to a train, we have time between dinner and dessert for discussion – about Sofia’s time at university in England; about politics; about the region and travel abroad. Conversation becomes nightcap, when there’s no drive home later, no morning commute to work. Maybe I have room for a piccolo limoncello. This time, on purpose. Sono soddisfatta.






Saturday, July 7, 2018

Sleepless in Dubai

                                         Sleepless in Dubai

A friend told me, as the kids and I embarked on our world tour eight years ago, the word  “travel” originated from the French word “travail,” which means work.  Travel may be less onerous today than in ancient times, but it’s no baguette-and-brie picnic when you spend ten hours in your departure airport, 18 hours in the air and arrive at your hotel at eight am, exhausted, smelly, wearing teeth wrapped in pashminas.

This is the state in which Fiona, Finley and I arrive in Dubai. After a snack in the hotel coffee shop and too-brief nap, we hop a hotel shuttle van to the Dubai Mall. Spending three seconds outside in 40 degree Celsius/104 Fahrenheit heat morphs me into an ice cream seeking missile.
 Inside the world’s largest mall (by area, at nearly 6 million square feet, with 1300 shops), we bustle past the two-story wall of water containing an aquarium and settle on serve-yourself, pay-by-weight frozen yogurt. It’s pricey in New Zealand and ridiculous in Dubai. I nearly shriek as Finley attempts to pile gummi bears atop his mountain of soft serve heaped with chocolate. “Those are really heavy,” I say. Our frozen treat was around $30 for the three of us, the same as two sandwiches, porridge and two donuts at the hotel.

We taxi to Atlantis at the Palm, an extravagant resort on a man-made island (shaped, naturally, like a palm tree), to visit the Aquaventure Park. Walk around in an oven all day after 30 hours in transit and a 30-minute nap? Sounds reasonable.
We ride the river on inner tubes. Conveyor belts elevate the tubes before shooting us into rapids, where we swirl and twirl. We’d left our sandals where we started, figuring we’d pop round the river and grab them at the end. Except we can't find the end. Soon, we're hot-footing it around each bend, seeking rubber footwear to save our soles. We finally find the shoes.

We had planned to meet my friend Veneta and her kids, Olivia and Josh at the water park. Fiona spots Veneta about an hour after our arrival. Soon, the kids are off together on the slides.

Meanwhile, my eyelids feel as if they’ve been dipped in concrete and I succumb to a brief nap in a lounge chair. Heat provides a wake-up call. When the kids return, they drag Old Mom on two large tube rides with steep drops designed to test multiparous women’s bladder control.

Back at the Dubai Mall, we watch three spectacular fountain shows set to music. Next door, the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa, presents its own music and lights show. We did not summit the tower’s 828 metres (2,717), as the air was too hazy during our two days in Dubai to merit the expensive elevator ride.

Dinner at the Social House is pleasant, with views of the two spectacles at once. I peruse the restaurant’s drinks menu in search of beer, but find only mocktails, juices and sodas. I’d forgotten – no alcohol in Dubai cafes and restaurants unless they’re attached to a hotel. My lemon and lime fizz with fresh mint is delicious, though likely contained 500 percent more sugar than an IPA.

We farewell our friends, who would leave tomorrow, also en route to Europe (also without husbands/fathers, both of whom stayed in New Zealand for work), and head downstairs to the taxi queue. It’s Saturday night, and a dozen other people await rides inside this underground blast furnace. A woman wearing a shirt marked Royal Smart Limousine waves the kids and I over from the marked taxis to a Toyota minivan with no top light, and no meter. My Spidey senses say grab the kids and run, but my jetlagged brain can’t compute fast enough. “Eighty dirhams, no more, no less,” says the woman to the driver. She has just arranged a ride to our hotel that should’ve cost around 50 AED (around $13 USD).  Fatigue smothers judgement. We take the ride. Once at the hotel, I hold out my credit card, as I’d already done for two other taxi drivers. “Oh, no credit,” says the driver. He drives me three minutes to another hotel where I pay 26 dirhams ($7 USD) to extract money from an ATM. So now the ride costs 106 AED ($29 USD).

I am boiling with rage. If I were a person who swore at strangers, I would’ve called him a scamming son-of-a-bitch. But I’m not, and this dude is just a cog in a machine. “Never again!” I snap as I slam the door. Limousine, my ass. Take your minivan and shove it.

Once in our room, I fire off an email to Royal Smart Limousine, telling them I was overcharged and forced to pay extra to get cash. The next morning, a representative from RSL and I exchange a series of emails where he tells me the driver has been reprimanded for not informing me his credit card machine wasn’t working, but that the company offers premium service and charges higher rates during peak times. I explain I didn’t want a “luxury car,” and felt taken advantage of when I was shunted away from metered taxis to the “limousines.” I’ve already drafted complaints to the taxi licensing body and tourism board in my head when RSL informs me they will, in fact, refund me 50 AED. I tell them this seems fair. It feels like vindication.

Our second and final day in Dubai, we revisit the mall to scope items on the kids’ wish lists. They’ve saved their money for clothes and shoes. Fiona buys overalls and a shirt at Forever 21. Finley buys skater shoes on sale at the Vans store. I drag the kids back to the taxi stand, where an RSL employee meets me to deliver my 50 AED refund. But not before taking a photo of me with the money. I imagine my pasty, jet-lagged face framed by Krusty the Clown ringlets on the company’s website with the caption, “I love Royal Smart Limousine. They save me lots of money!” Fiona and I decide not to frame this hard-won equivalent of $13, but instead, spend part of it on manicures for her and me while Finley plays a videogame in the middle of the mall.

I restrain myself from taking close-up photos of women wearing niqabs, coverings that leave only letterbox openings for eyes. At the fountain show, a woman with covered head and exposed face smiles and laughs. I wonder what it’s like for women wearing a niqab to not be able to express themselves in public. I wonder if little girls walking alongside their shrouded mothers know enough to envy their brothers, who will never be asked to conceal their faces. It’s a lot to take in at a mall.

We dine in the food court, and at 7pm, start making the 700 metre or so trek to catch the shuttle van. Descend three escalators, zig, zag, this way or that? Over here… we’ve nearly found the main entrance when Fiona stops and yells, “My bags!” She has left her bags somewhere. So has Finley. Despite the air conditioning, I’m steaming again. We sprint back through the mall, zig, zag, here, no, there – up three sets of escalators. To the Vans store – two bags found. To the food court – another bag. Fiona can’t find her backpack. “My phone is in there!” she cries. We ask about lost and found. It’s down three floors. It’s 7:20. No way we’ll catch our van. “You both are paying for the Uber,” I tell the kids.

The friendly staff at lost and found say don’t worry, they’ll look for Fiona’s bag. By now, Fi is crying, thinking about all the photos she’ll lose if she doesn’t retrieve her phone. I tell her no one wants an iPhone 5. It’s 7:28, and we’re waiting to hear about the bag. “We can still make the van,” says Finley. “No, Finn. We can’t.” We stick around to await our lost item.

Five minutes later, an employee delivers Fi’s bag. Her phone is there. It’s all there. I order an Uber, and Manayil rolls up in his Lexus. An actual luxury car. The ride home costs 50 AED.

We catch three hours of sleep before our 12:30 am wakeup call. By 1:30, we’re back at the Dubai airport, navigating a stream of sleepwalking travellers. At 3:30 am, we’re airborne again, this time heading to Milan.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Happy 57th Birthday, Sean

               Happy 57th Birthday, Sean

It’s the shortest day of the year in New Zealand, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and the day our Prime Minister gave birth to a baby girl. The kids and I have a another reason to celebrate and be sad - today would’ve been Sean’s 57th birthday. 

Tonight, I showed Fiona photos of Sean taken the month before he got sick, when we were on holiday and when he took her to kindergarten on her first day. Fi looked at me with big, sad eyes, saying, “I’m glad we have those photos, because I’m forgetting what Daddy looked like.” I hugged her, and told her I understood, that she’s proof Daddy and I loved each other. If it weren’t for Fiona and Finley, most days I wouldn’t believe Sean and I had been married ten years. It was another life, a period marked by our babies’ arrivals, the move to a new neighborhood and the start of new jobs for both of us. We were percolating with possibilities until one of us vanished. We were no longer. No we, just me - and kids.

It’s been eight years since Sean died, and I feel like a new widow. I’m grieving more deeply than normal, thinking of him more than usual and I’ve unintentionally dropped about 6 kg (around 14 pounds) the past eight months, just as I did in the months after I lost Sean. Damn, I wish I could bottle that stuff, or write a how-to book. I’d be rich. You’re supposed to be able to run faster with less weight, but I find I’m slower these days. This pisses me off.

I feel guilty about foisting 2018 problems on the husband who died in 2010. It seems unfair to dump on him that way, like finding religion after a terminal diagnosis. Too little, too late? Mostly, the kids keep me - I keep me - too busy to wallow. A reckoning will come - the empty nest meltdown. All the grief work I postponed in the months and early years after Sean’s death will boomerang and whack me in the head. 

Aside from summer holidays, Pete (husband #2, which makes me sound like a socialite), hasn’t lived with us full-time since mid-September. That’s when he started his third flight school job within a 12-month period. He returns home every other weekend for fewer than 48 hours, because it’s a four-hour drive. One-way. I do not recommend this arrangement. It’s supposed to be temporary; we said we’d give it a year, something I regretted about three months into the experiment. 

I feel like a solo mum again. Nearly all the dinners - just me and the kids. All the taxi runs - me and other mums and dads who carpool. Nearly all the nights - alone, though if I’m lucky, the kids will sit in the front room with me while I read and they watch their flickering screens. Twenty minutes on the phone each night is a sparse substitute for a face-to-face debrief with another grown-up.  It’s lonely, and not the life I expected. I didn’t expect Sean to die, either. I joke I repel men, and maybe I should switch teams. A friend reminds me lesbians have relationship issues, too. 

It’s not all thunder and gloom. I am, after all, used to running the show, and the kids and I are heading out soon for an adventure. We are a threesome again. Also, unlike many people who are truly suffering in our community, we have a home, heat, and food in the pantry. 

See? This was meant to be a remembrance of Sean and I’ve turned it into a tiny pity party for one. I just slapped my own hand. Breathe. Why does everyone tell you to breathe? It’s involuntary. It’s gonna happen on its own. Like birth. Like death. Sometimes, breath must be the focus, because it’s hard to complicate breathing. Or forget it. Like how I worry I’ll forget Sean’s look, laugh, dozens of hiccups after too much Tequila, being outed by coworkers for smelling like steak au poivre, the careful walk along an icy South Michigan pier, a picnic where I reveal the gender of a gestating Fiona. Or was it Finley?

Memory is slippery and malleable. We think we know what happened - where we were, who we were with, what we did. I don’t. I need photos, journals, Facebook, gentle nudging and understanding when it takes a while to marshal a memory I used to own. So much has happened. How do you remember all the colours of the horses on a spinning carousel?

Fiona places three small candles in a chocolate-frosted, chocolate chip cupcake and lights them. Finley starts singing, “Happy birthday to you…” We serenade Sean, whereever he may be, and the kids blow out the flames. We hug. Fiona asks for another tissue before picking up Ally, who she’s convinced is Daddy, re-packaged in a fluffy white-and-caramel-colored dog suit. Ally licks her tears. I’m pretty sure the dog was chewing her own poop last night, because I found a nugget when I came downstairs this morning.

That’s life. Just when you find a whisper of peace, imagining the spirit of your dead husband within your beloved dog, you realise the dog has eaten feces.

Happy birthday, Sean. We will always love you.